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Difference Between Cable TV and Digital TV

Difference Between Cable TV and Digital TV

The television technology has changed dramatically since the inception of digital television as the world witnessed a major paradigm shift from analog to digital. The emergence of digital technology has made terrestrial broadcasts and cable television things of the past. The concept of cable television was simple before digital technology took over the home entertainment space. With the advent of digital technology, it’s easy to confuse one from another and misunderstand the concept of both.

What is Cable TV?

Cable television is a technology that leverages UHF and VHF bands to deliver television programming to subscribers through coaxial cables. It is also referred to as CATV (Community Antenna Television). In areas with bad connectivity or limited over-the-air reception, large community antennas were installed to provide television programs to individual homes through cables.

The consumers would pay a small subscription fee to their respective cable television provider for the services received. The concept is simple – the coaxial cable brings the signal to the consumer’s hub which directly plugs into the television set or to the nearest cable box. Sometimes cable providers would install amplifiers at certain distances to boost the signal strength for better viewing experience.

The cable systems deliver hundreds of channels to millions of paid subscribers while also delivering high-speed internet access. High-speed broadband access is achieved through cable modems which convert the network data into digitally processed signals that can be efficiently transferred via coaxial cables. Many cable operators have also started their dedicated cable telephone service which allows the consumers to make phone calls.

Cable television can broadcast two types of signals:

  • Analog
  • Digital

Analog signals experience some noise and interference which would affect the audio and video quality of the program. Digital signals, on the other hand, are a newer approach to television programming which delivers high-quality content.

What is Digital TV?

Digital television, as the name suggests, allows television stations to broadcast high-quality digital content on multiple channels for a better viewing experience. Digital means better sound and better picture and the best part – it’s free. Consumers would enjoy high-definition content for a wide variety of channels and experience television like never before.

Unlike earliest television technology which leveraged less-efficient analog signals for transmission, the digital technology uses digitally encoded signals for unsurpassed viewing experience. Digital technology is a major evolution in the home entertainment space since the inception of color television in the 1950s. The television technology has witnessed a significant upgrade in the form of digital television which changed the way consumers watch television.

Digital television is often referred to as synonymous with “HDTV”, but they are entirely different. HDTV is entirely a new display format but does not specify the method of transmission, which can be both – analog and digital. HDTV sports wider aspect ratio and greater pixel density as compared to digital TV. Modern digital technology also features internet access via the television.

Digital TV comes in two qualities of picture:

  • Standard-Definition Television (SDTV)
  • High-Definition Television (HDTV)

The picture is crisp and vivid in HDTV as compared to SDTV. HDTV also features wider aspect ratio and higher pixel density than in SDTV, resulting in superior sound and picture quality.

Difference Between Cable TV and Digital TV-1

Difference between Cable TV and Digital TV

  1. Signal

Cable television transmits signals via a coaxial cable that plugs in directly to the television set or the nearest cable box while using either analog or digital signals. Digital TV, on the other hand, transmits high-quality digitally encoded signals rather than unconventional analog methods.

  1. Media

A cable is used in the cable TV where the UHF and VHF bands are used to deliver television connected to a community antenna by a cable that receives the signal, while a digital television signal comes either through a cable or over the air.

  1. Transmission

Cable TV transmits signals in the form of a constantly variable wave, while digital TV transmits signals in the form of an electrical pulse which is represented by binary data (one or a zero). Digital signal is more precise and accurate than analog transmission.

  1. Quality

The signal degrades its quality over long distances in case of cable television and is barely detectable outside of broadcast area, which eventually decreases the signal-to-noise ratio. The signal does not lose its quality in digital transmission irrespective of distance. Even if the signal-to-noise ratio decreases in digital transmission, the quality of broadcast remains unaffected.

  1. Consistency

Cable TV suffers a lot due to noise and interference which results in poor sound and picture quality. Digital signals, on the other hand, provide superior audio and picture quality, thanks to the consistency of reception over farther distances.

  1. Multicasting

The quality of the signal in cable TV largely depends on the signal received by the television which can be either analog or digital. Digital TV, on the other hand, supports more channels and more high-quality content through multicasting and video-on-demand program.

Cable TV vs. Digital TV

Cable TV Digital TV
Cable TV operates on just analog signals. Digital operates on both analog and digital signals.
Transmits signals via coaxial cables. Digitally encoded signals are directly fed into the television set.
Broadcast quality degrades over long distances. Distance does not affect the quality of broadcast.
Loss of picture and sound quality due to noise and interference. Cleaner signal results in high-quality sound and picture.
Cannot add and remove favorite channels. Able to support more channels and more content through multicasting.
Low picture quality, sharpness, and contrast. Better resolution, vivid pictures, wider aspect ratio, and higher pixel density.


  • While cable TV and digital TV are the two types of television technology, both have their fair share of differences.
  • Both are based on different designs and concepts.
  • The shift from analog to digital has changed the way television is created and viewed, but the idea remains the same – to get the best viewing experience.
  • Digital TV is way better than a cable TV in terms of almost everything – be it signal and broadcast quality, transmission, sound and picture quality and what not!
  • The difference proves the shift from cable to digital television is indeed a big leap of faith in the entertainment industry.

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1 Comment

  1. How can I get ” THIS” station on my cable tv.?

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References :

[0]Gerbarg, Darcy. The Economics, Technology and Content of Digital TV. NYC: Springer, 1999. Print

[1]Colins, Gerard W. Fundamentals of Digital Television Transmission. New York: Wiley, 2001. Print

[2]Gerbarg, Darcy. Television Goes Digital. NYC: Springer, 2009. Print



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